Friday, June 19, 2015

From David Shepherd's Collection - The Rolling Stage

The Rolling Stage was David Shepherd’s first attempt at theatre after returning from India where he taught English at the University of Bombay. A bus and truck company with a portable stage that rolled out on wheels, The Rolling Stage toured resorts in the Catskills performing Moliere’s The Mock Doctor and experimented with improvisation. The failure of the company is what led David to Chicago, where he first encountered the repertory group Tonight at 8:30, followed by his two year stint as a producer, writer, director and performer with the Playwrights Theatre Club.  After Playwrights folded, David and the company went on to realize his vision of a popular theatre - Compass.

A few years ago, David drafted this outline for an article about The Rolling Stage, which incorporated his journal entries. As with many of David’s projects, he abandoned it and moved on to something else. I recently discovered the outline in his collection and decided to share it with the community.

Rolling Stage '53 to Chicago (find fit with other material)
8 x 11 notebook, Red binding, Red corner-- proofed 7/09 by David Shepherd

May 20, 1952
Met Jim Kerans at docks on return from India; decided to go ahead with theatre:

-It should be a traveling theatre (to avoid space rental and repairs and to play to audiences in different towns..

-It should play from Washington to Boston to 2 audiences:
            1) At private estates/ country clubs to assure profit
            2.) On beaches and vacant lots to assure a popular response

-Its first play should be a classic (to give us a chance to find a strong style) and its second an improvisation performed by us (to get something workable written and tested under these circumstances).

Dear Sir,
            The first of our three summer shows is now open for bookings in the last two weeks of July. In case you are interested, we can offer you any of the following arrangements.

1. You can take our package for one night at the fixed rate of $200. In this you benefit both by the entire receipts from ticket sales and by the entertainment afforded by your guests

2. You can help us publicize the show in return for forty percent of the ticket sales.

Our business manager would be glad to give you full information, either by correspondence, interviewing, or through our New York agent.

Very truly yours,
            The Rolling Stage

June 22, 1952
Dear Mr. Keith,
            We would be glad to take you as business manager-press agent for the Rolling Stage at the following terms:

You will receive a weekly salary of $80 for your personal expenses and for the use of your car. In addition you will receive 5% of the first $2000 ticket sales per month, 10% of the second $2000, and 15% of anything above that. The ceiling of your total salary will be $1000/mo.     David G Shepherd

July 4, 1952: Possibilities
1) We close. I lose $3500. I gain equipment to start again.
2) We brainstorm for one week using ground as stage, car battery for lights, and stage to support poles for backdrop.

If we close, I give weeks’ notice and hope not everybody asks for his salary. If most ask, we rehearse Moliere more, do improvisation.

Decision of cast:
To rough it on $500 Budget.

A Gay Farce by the Rolling Stage
Saturday July 12, 8:30
At the Fountain Manor,  Ellenville

The Mock Doctor by Moliere
In the Open Air.

Paris 1942  insert earlier
Manifesto:  Blueprint for the New Free Theatre

The NFT should be small at first. The connection between actor and audience has been lost in the coy hypocrisy of the realistic theatre but can be found again by testing effects at close range. To counteract the sloppy diffusions of the modern sensibility, the NFT will be, if nothing else, vigorous and self disciplined.

The vigorous roots of drama are song and dance, which must be brought back, if not outright, then in precise and suggestive speech and movement.

List begun in 1948 of 'Pure Plays'.
Jarry: Ubu Roi
Early French
Le Viol de Lucrece--Obey
The Boor--Chekhov

India 1951--insert earlier
IMPLICATIONS: Divorce from the middle class, which now monopolizes theatre in almost every nation, and from its pretentions. Divorce from large cities, outside of which very little theatre is found in any nation, and from distractions. Divorce from theatrical convention from the past 300 years, in which only a small handful of popular plays have been written, and from its assumptions.

Statement for Rolling Stage--Not used '52
We are going to play without any lighting or scenery because we want to work up two or three styles of acting that are more effective than the ones found on stage today.

In other words, we are trying to erect a good popular theatre in this country. We cannot do it unless actors and playwrights put down less important things to help us.

We need new manuscripts on which to practice. At the beginning we don't expect they'll be any good since ours is in a century of poor drama, but we do expect that they'll be written in intense language around the important themes.

Washington, August 1952
We believe the easiest way to get the good plays we need is by attending to style; you will find exercises in this book which show what we mean by style. We believe that plays can be written on any subject, in any style, and to any length; in this book you will find copies of the styles of some major dramatists today.  In other words, we believe plays are logical statements; not bursts of inspiration,

October 6, 1952
It may be that all our conventions (little scenery or lighting, many  verse forms, musical accompaniment, etc.) will have to be tested first in a cabaret type theatre which will have the added attraction of also being a club where we can easily meet success or failures.

October 7, 1952
 Mirror Theatre will present and judge the members of the audience on stage, a theatre that will, say: "Look, this is the stage of your life, better than you yourself see it."

July 22, 1952 sequence?
What can be good about a play?
Ezra Pound-- "Drama is a dam’d form, tending nearly always toward work of secondary intensity, though the tendency doesn’t always set in strong enough to wreck the work."

August 14
As soon as the manifesto is printed and distributed, seeing that theatrical prospects open to the west and that my classless position is no longer useful,
take off with a $100 bill toward Chicago
Find my level, what I can do, what I am good for as a member of a multifaceted economy. An observer passing through America as a knife through butter.  A poet.
I mean a poet of actuality, of what I see and do, of the simple fact--no fantasies, no distortions, no symbolic interpretations--writing nothing that has not been memorized and recited before people, my people, whoever they prove to be.

Many Writers: Few plays
By Arthur Miller, August 10, 1953, NY Times
(Author of ‘Death of a Salesman’ and ‘All my Sons‘)
"Even optimists confess that our theatre has a struck an endless low by any standard. I cannot hope to explain the reasons for this, but certain clues keep recurring to me when thinking on the manner.
Is Everybody Happy?
We always had with us the “showman,” but we also had a group of rebels insisting on thrusting their private view of the world on others. Where are they? Or is everybody really happy now? Do Americans really believe they have solved the problems of living for all time? If not, where are plays that reflect the soul wracking, deeply unseating questions that are being asked on the street, in the living room, on the subways?"

September 17, 1953
Here’s the situation: The first act of the third draft of my Foreman of Malfi looks solid, almost interesting, almost a candidate for graduation onto the stage.

Chicago: October 21, 1953
The Sunbeam Corp turned me down for a job because I have too much education.  It fears that mechanical and repetitive assembly lines would not please me, and that I would only stay a day, or a week.

Paul Sills anxious to override Bourgeois “crap” but also chooses to stand above class, speak to no one class, although has joined a group at University of Chicago, which is made up of middle class. Finds meaning in Cocteau’s Typewriter - or at least an adequate picture of middle class. Praises Brecht for going beyond the proletarian play.  Speaks of new script writers.  Some promising.  Will see again about writing a “1953.”

Roommate Jacobs contemplates three productions this school year (Typewriter, a second Buchner and Caucasian Chalk Circle), next summer a series of four or five plays from the German theatre (“the second greatest theatre in the world”). (Everything he says is exaggerated with determination.} University of Chicago has given up fighting incursion of Negroes to Hyde Park (where it owns vast tracts of property), has decided instead to welcome middle class Negroes.

Jack Higgins says he could use me for an instructor for kids, young adults, or adults, either in connection with schools, or at park field houses. Six hour day. Four day week. $2.11/ hour, Jan 1- May 1.

Playwrights Theatre Club summer season.

Cleveland: December 19
Playhouse: Mrs. Stewer (?) says Cleveland is a sleepy town after 9:00. Can account for success of Playhouse only in terms of age (35+). Most principal actors paid.  Admission $2.   Three Houses+School.
"Finian’s Rainbow" looked all amateur.  Not well directed.
Karamu Theatre  Dargan Burns (P R) sited unique character of Karamu, which still growing. All actors Amateur. White and Negro mix in cast and audience.

I954: Chicago Playbill: Playwrights Theatre Club presents:
“The Three Penny Opera” - (“Die Dreigroschenoper”)
by Berthold Brecht
Music by Kurt Weill
Translated by Desmond Vesey and Eric Bentley

 Playwrights Theatre Club fall program, which includes David Shepherd's play The Fields of Malfi.

Michael Golding is a writer, director and improv teacher.  He can be contacted for workshops, festivals and private consultations at Michael participated in the evolution of the Improv Olympics & Canadian Improv Games. Artistic director of the Comic Strip Improv Group in N.Y. & created the Insight Theatre Company for Planned Parenthood, Ottawa.  He is a faculty member at El Camino College in Los Angeles, working with at-risk teens and traditional students. He wrote and co-produced the documentary "David Shepherd: A Lifetime of Improvisational Theatre" (available for free on YouTube).  His book, Listen Harder, a collection of essays, curriculum and memorabilia on improvisation and educational theatre, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and CreateSpace. Michael holds a BFA degree in Drama from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts & an MA degree in Educational Theatre from NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education & Human Development.